Monday, May 30, 2016

How Much Water is TOO Much to be a Habitable World?

Water-rich planets: How habitable is a water layer deeper than on Earth?


Noack et al


Water is necessary for the origin and survival of life as we know it. In the search for life-friendly worlds, water-rich planets therefore are obvious candidates and have attracted increasing attention in recent years. The surface H2O layer on such planets (containing a liquid water ocean and possibly high-pressure ice below a specific depth) could potentially be hundreds of kilometres deep depending on the water content and the evolution of the proto-atmosphere.

We study possible constraints for the habitability of deep water layers and introduce a new habitability classification relevant for water-rich planets (from Mars-size to super-Earth-size planets). A new ocean model has been developed that is coupled to a thermal evolution model of the mantle and core. Our interior structure model takes into account depth-dependent thermodynamic properties and the possible formation of high-pressure ice.

We find that heat flowing out of the silicate mantle can melt an ice layer from below (in some cases episodically), depending mainly on the thickness of the ocean-ice shell, the mass of the planet, the surface temperature and the interior parameters (e.g. radioactive mantle heat sources). The high pressure at the bottom of deep water–ice layers could also impede volcanism at the water–mantle boundary for both stagnant lid and plate tectonics silicate shells.

We conclude that water-rich planets with a deep ocean, a large planet mass, a high average density or a low surface temperature are likely less habitable than planets with an Earth-like ocean.

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